Sarah Burns is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She received her Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in 2013. Her research examines the intersection of political liberalization and American constitutional development with an eye toward policy implications for democratization across the globe.
The American Revolution: That moment when we declared independence from Great Britain and created an unprecedented new society. While we all know the basic details, most people don’t stop to ask exactly why the Founders declared independence from a powerful empire. After all, the risks of doing so were enormous. First, creating a democracy over such a large area was an untested idea developed mostly by philosophers. Second, colonists were rebelling against the British — one of the most formidable fighting forces in the world. What, then, provoked the Founders to do something as
Have you thought about what it really means to protest Donald Trump and his administration’s policies?Since his election, groups have cropped up to oppose his presidency, his policies, and his personality under #resist and #resistance.Some movements started before the electoral college vote, hoping to sway electors to vote for Hillary Clinton and threatening to undermine an important electoral norm. Others have started Twitter accounts combating Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, dropping the very small fig leaf the scientific community typically dons when it seeks to claim it is objective.
As the American Revolution began, Americans threw off the rule of a tyrannical king but in their enthusiasm for their newfound freedom, they set up ineffective governments. For instance, they denied the federal government the power to tax, trusting the state legislatures to pay their share of the war costs.Americans gave their state legislatures too much power and the governors too little. In turn, the people voted irresponsible legislators into office. The result: legislatures started gobbling up executive power, further concentrating it in their hands.These imbalances made it onerous to fight
As we reflect on this important day in American history, I think we should remember what we should be most thankful for in this country: the bad luck of the early British colonists. Hear me out.Many people seem to think the United States became such a rich country either because our early colonists were good and moral pioneers or because they exploited the heck out of the native population (and everybody else).But if we compare our history to the history of poorer countries like Mexico, we find out that the Spanish colonists there were more brutal exploiters, and that the British colonists here
The 17th and 18th centuries marked a turning point in Atlantic history that caused the Western world to move from governments run by absolute monarchs to governments run by and for the people. During the early modern period and the Enlightenment, many theorists attempted to undermine the belief that kings had the same power as parents had over their children, giving them an absolute right to absolute power. Two early and notable theorists, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, developed an ahistorical state of nature to demonstrate that God created equality among men at the beginning and that only through
Donald Trump’s decision to bomb an airfield in Syria, along with his hints about overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, have led many to wonder: doesn’t Trump need authorization from Congress before acting? The answer, like many in politics, is yes and no.A quick scan of the Constitution will tell you that Congress has the power to Declare War as well as the power to issue “Letters of Marque and Reprisals.” For those not up on 18th century lingo, those Letters provide the bearer with the power to capture an enemy who has left the country (typically by ship). It legalizes actions that would otherwise
Less than three months into a new presidency, the nation has seen two travel bans (involving a great deal of controversy around both); tense meetings with foreign allies; accusations of collusion with Russians; accusations of wiretapping; and a long anticipated health care bill that was DOA. It’s easy to be so exhausted by the national news that you’ve failed to look at what’s happening at the state level: but you should.Right now, in at least 17 states, lawmakers have introduced bills that would restrict protesting in a variety of ways. As Christopher Ingraham reports at Washington Post’s
What does it mean to have a “real” democracy?In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez received the overwhelming majority of votes (sort of legitimately) and then changed the rules so he could stay on as president for life and appoint his successor.But, technically, Venezuela is a democracy.In Russia, even term limits did little to diminish Vladimir Putin’s power during the four years that he passed the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev. He exploited the ambiguity in the constitution to stay on as prime minister during that time and sought reelection in 2012 — over huge protests decrying the corrupt electoral
Do Trump’s cabinet full of generals, his openness to torture, and the “peace through strength” message from the White House all signal that he plans to rely on military power to achieve international objectives? Or do his protectionist policies, his executive order restricting immigration, and his threats to impose tariffs indicate that the US will become more isolationist?While it’s difficult to determine what will happen in a Trump White House given these ideologically inconsistent policies, we can place them within the broader context of the present world order.The early 21st century
Now that the Electoral College has made Trump’s 2016 win final, this a good time to start thinking about what powers he will have when he comes into office in January. While the Constitution technically provides certain constraints on presidential actions, many of these formal and informal restrictions have fallen by the wayside.This leaves Trump with a presidency more powerful and more unchecked than any in history. The Growth of Presidential Power The dramatic increase in government services and departments during the Great Depression, coupled with the expansionary effects of a world
While many did not predict the outcome of this election, everyone knew one thing: half of the country would be devastated.For some, Trump was a straight-shooting outsider, standing up to the party elites and fighting for those who felt left behind. For others, he was an offensive liar who pitted Americans against each other.Clinton had a similarly divisive quality. For some, she was building on Obama’s legacy of inclusiveness, emphasizing that we’re — as we know from her campaign slogan — “Stronger Together.” For others, she was a corrupt insider who played by her own rules and got
After a debate that was arguably the most indecent in American history, it’s healthy to wonder “are Clinton and Trump really the only viable options?”The Democrats and Republicans have largely been the only two choices in presidential and congressional elections since the Civil War. There have been a smattering of third party options, but by and large theirs has been a story of loss and denigration. But why? In order to determine why third parties fare so badly, we need a little more of the back story. The History of the Two Parties After the creation of the Constitution, those
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